Of all the things I’ve ever had to do, this walk is the hardest. I have to watch my son be beaten and tortured beyond belief and be rejected by the people who watched him grow from a young child to a man, the same people who had patted him on the head and slipped him sweet breads when he was younger. I am helpless to help him, and I can only watch in frustration and grief as he struggles with his last task.
It started last night. He had supper with his followers and then went to pray. Before he left for his favorite prayer place at the Mt. of Olives, he came to see me. He held my face in his two broad hands, those hands that had hewn and shaped many a piece of wood, those strong hands that had carried me on a few occasions where I had twisted my ankle or fallen down. Those hands cradled my face ever so gently and he looked at me with so much love that I thought my heart would burst. He kissed my forehead and said, “Dear mother, be strong of heart and of faith. Do not be troubled. My love and the love of my father are with you.” I thought he meant Joseph, who loved me deeply, as deeply as I loved him. Even though Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, Joseph never thought of him as anything other than his own son. Jesus always reminded me of Joseph in the way he loved YHWH and every person he met. Jesus even reminded me of Joseph in his appearance. There was something about the eyes, always twinkling, and the mouth, ever ready to smile. I always felt so blessed to be surrounded by such caring men in my life. I wanted to ask why I would be troubled, but something in his eyes kept me from asking. The candlelight only served to emphasize the shadows in his face and the burning darkness of his eyes. I placed my hand on his cheek, tracing the line of his cheekbone and jaw, never breaking my gaze from his. Unspoken between us was the love we held for each other, itself almost a palpable force in itself. Jesus placed his cheek on mine for a moment, then turned quickly and left the room. I put my hand to my cheek where his had rested, and my fingers came away wet with his tears.
Now I know why his emotions were so intense last night. He knew that this day was coming. Here I am the day before Passover, yet I will not be able to celebrate our people’s deliverance from evil, because I will be mourning the death of my son. No, there would be no celebrating this evening! My thoughts return to a celebration several years ago, a wedding that we were invited to attend. Jesus arrived with his friends and was warmly greeted. Everyone loved to be around my son. He had a way of making you feel at ease, wanted and accepted. And his laugh! His laughter came from a place of joy inside him that was always beyond the reach of those who heard him, but that joy was contagious! Jesus truly enjoyed the company of others, and the feeling was mutual. Then there was that wine incident…he resisted helping at first, which was not like him. I insisted, though, that he do something to help out the young couple, to keep them from being embarrassed. That first public miracle of his – did I rush things? Did I force the events of today? I am tormented by the fact that I might be partially to blame for today.
These thoughts run through my head as I follow my exhausted and very bloody son through the streets of Jerusalem. I look at the wood he carries, the wood destined to be the final instrument of his very painful death. My mind wanders back to his younger years. I loved to watch Joseph working with Jesus, showing him how to cut, shape, and form wood to something useful. Together they made lintels and tables and shelves. I remember Jesus running to me, dragging me outside to show me his first set of shelves that he made all by himself. Joseph stood by, in his quiet way, smiling at Jesus and glowing with pride at his child. There were times that Jesus would run in, having cut himself with one of the tools or asking me to remove a splinter from his finger. Jesus hated splinters! I would bathe and bind his wounds, remove his splinters, and we would always end these procedures with our ritual: “You should be more careful, my son!” I would say, and he would reply, “Oh, it’s not that bad, mother. “ Then we’d kiss and hug and he’d be a blur, running out the door to get back to his project, and I’d be left holding a bloody rag and fleeting memory.
There would be no bathing or binding these wounds today, I thought. There were not enough rags in the world to clean up this mess, I thought. And I would be unable to remove those splinters now burying themselves into his raw shoulders and back. How could his own people do this to him? I sped up a bit, in order to see my son’s face, or what was left of it. I was to his right when he fell. I watched him struggle to get up, to get his feet underneath him. As he slowly rose, I saw where the rocks had cut his knees and shins, adding to the bloody mess that was my child. I wanted to run to him, to carry his cross for him, to scream in rage at the taunting crowd. The guards held me back and I screamed his name in my frustration. My son, the baby I carried in my womb, the babe to whom I sang songs the little boy who danced with me, met my eyes. For one brief moment we were alone together, in the midst of the crowd. The smallest trace of a smile, something only a mother would be able to see, appeared ever so briefly and then flickered out as he put his mind and body to the task at hand.
He always seemed intent on his purpose. And he was such a normal child growing up that I forgot his parentage at times. I remembered that heart-wrenching time when he disappeared from our traveling group as we left Jerusalem after a holy day. I thought he was walking with Joseph and the men, and Joseph thought he was with me. When we realized he was missing, I thought my heart would burst. We almost ran all the way back to Jerusalem, and it took several days of knocking on doors to find him. In the Temple, of all places! And taking on the rabbi and other scholars, no less! I wanted to knock him silly, but his response both shocked and reminded me of who he was. I stayed my hand and simply hugged him until he told me he couldn’t breathe and could I please let go? I didn’t let go right away, I was so happy to have found him. He was lost, and then he was found. And I was about to lose him again.
I returned to the journey. Jesus now had a helper to carry his cross. We were about to begin climbing the hill where he would be crucified. He was barely standing on his own by now, the trail of blood behind him marking where he was leaving his life behind. Ironic, I thought, his life blood being poured out among the people, who were trampling those drops of life into the dust. These, the people to whom he had always dedicated himself. These, the people to whom he preached of God and of love and of life. They were attempted to remove all traces of his life, with their words and actions, and now with their feet. Where had the adulation of a week ago gone? Evil must have its way, I suppose, even when veiled with politics or fear. My own feet are dusty and the dust from the crowd makes it difficult to breathe. Breathe I must, for I cannot help but follow my son to the end.
I remember following him as he preached. His followers always made sure that I was well cared for, bless them. John is with me, at my side, grieving in his own way. He occasionally reaches out to help me when I stumble, or when my grief overwhelms my ability to keep up with my son. Together we reach the hill where the crucifixion takes place. I watch in horror as my son is nailed to his cross. Each nail pierces my heart like a sword; each hammer blow is felt in my gut. I want to rush forward to wrench those nails from my son’s hands and feet, but I am held back. I retreat into my memories. I remember bathing those little hands and feet as a babe. I remember rubbing his tummy and tickling him. His baby laughter filled our little home, bouncing off the walls and rolling on the floors. I remember how his smile could light up a room. I could feel his tiny little body held against my breast as I comforted him to sleep. I put my cheek to his soft cheek and sang softly into his ear. I remember walking him through the night when he was sick and feverish, stroking his tiny little head and fondling his hair to calm him down. I tuck my hands together across my body, reliving those moments when I was able to care for my son’s hurts.
I am brought back to the present by my son’s groans as his cross is raised. I groan also and John has to hold me up as I watch my precious baby being jolted into position. I can only imagine how much pain that movement caused him, as if there was any pain beyond what he has experienced already. I can only watch. Now, time is suspended. I gaze at my son and approach his feet. I look up at what is left of his body, and I pray for his spirit. I pray that YHWH take him quickly so that his pain will be limited. I touch his feet, and my fingers come away wet with his blood, and I feel that my heart will burst. Jesus, my much beloved son, gathers enough strength to entrust my care to John, ensuring that I will not be alone in this heartless world. John slowly guides me away a short distance, knowing that to be so close to the wounds of my child would wound me beyond what a mother’s mind could handle. I join others and we pray, we sway, we cry. After a while, even my tears dry up, as my heart has its fill of suffering. I can only hope for a quick ending to this agony that my son and I share, this moment of never ending anguish. I know that time is passing, but for me, this moment will exist forever, for as long as I live.
After only a few hours, my son cries out one last time to his father. YHWH has granted my prayer, and my son is no longer in pain. This last journey that we have shared is over, and this walk is at an end.